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Employers and occupational health providers don’t have much time left to establish the forklift safety program mandated by a new federal standard. Employees must be trained in the safe use of forklifts by Dec. 1, 1999, and then employers have to follow a safety program to ensure the proper training of workers thereafter.
The good news is that the training and evaluation programs do not have to be burdensome. (See five tips for complying with standard, p. 115.) The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, has left a lot of room for employers and occupational health providers to design their own programs, says Richard Sauger, safety specialist with OSHA and author of the new standard.
He tells Occupational Health Management that OSHA tried to write the standard in such a way that employers would find it flexible, while still ensuring that workers are properly trained in the safe operation of forklifts.
The new standards require a training program based on the trainee’s prior knowledge and skill, types of powered industrial trucks used in the workplace, hazards in the workplace, and the operator’s demonstrated ability to handle a forklift. OSHA’s previous standard for forklifts was adopted in 1971, and various organizations have pushed since then for a new standard that would require training and evaluations.
The rule, 29 CFR 1910.78, was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 1, 1998, with an effective date of March 1, 1999. The new training, however, is not required until Dec. 1, 1999. Training for anyone hired before Dec. 1, 1999, must be completed by that date. The training and evaluation of employees hired after Dec. 1, 1999, must be completed before the employee is assigned to operate a forklift. (Marine terminals and longshoring operations have a longer deadline for training compliance — March 1, 2000.)
Several hazards are addressed by the rule, with the hazards varying with the designs of the forklifts. A counterbalanced high-lift rider truck, for instance, is more likely to be involved in a falling load accident than a motorized hand truck because the rider truck can lift a load much higher. The methods of preventing accidents and protecting the employee will vary according to the type of truck and situation, OSHA notes. To protect the driver of a rider truck in a tip-over accident, for instance, the operator should be trained to remain in the driver’s seat and lean away from the direction of the fall.
Sauger says occupational health providers can aid employers by helping them set up a formal training and evaluation program that includes good record keeping. The OSHA standard does not require the use of outside consultants, but he notes that employers now will be required to use a more formalized training system and keep up with each individual worker’s training and evaluations. Record keeping also will be an important component, he says.
"The employer should have a lot of motivation to do this training anyway," he says. "We’re concerned about injuries and safety, but the employer still has to be concerned about property damage and loss from these accidents. The accidents we’re trying to prevent will save them a lot of money related to the injuries but also costs related directly to the loss of product when the driver doesn’t handle the load correctly." (See highlights of the revised standard, p. 116.)
OSHA does not intend to prescribe exactly how the training and evaluation must be conducted, Sauger says. Some companies are offering complete training programs to employers for a fee, but Sauger says employers and occupational health providers should be able to conduct the training on their own. He cautions, however, that the intentional flexibility in the standard does not mean OSHA will be easy on violations. An accident will lead inspectors to presume the training was inadequate, as can observations of unsafe operation.
"Ultimately, if an OSHA compliance officer looks at your operation and the operator is operating the truck safely, there is a presumption that this person is adequately trained," Sauger says. "On the other hand, if that person is not operating the truck safely, that would lead to an assumption that this guy was not trained or was not trained properly. At a minimum, seeing someone operating unsafely will result in faulting you on the evaluation aspect because you allowed it to happen without doing something to stop it."
OSHA does not specify who is qualified to do the training, only that the person must be competent to do so. (See story on employees who have received previous training, p. 117.)
Record keeping is another important aspect of the standard, Sauger says. As part of the training and evaluation process, the employer must document each employer’s participation. The employer must keep the documents on file, but he says the documentation is fairly simple.
For each employee trained and evaluated for forklift operation, the employer must file a certificate for each instance of training, evaluation, or re-evaluation. The certificate must note employee’s name, date of the training, date of the evaluation, and the signature of the person who did the training and/or evaluation.